Hunt on for pieces of fallen meteor
A massive ball of fire that lit up the skies over Alberta and Saskatchewan this week was likely among the biggest meteor events witnessed in Canada this year, one expert says. (more...)
The fireball, which streaked through the darkening skies for five seconds at about 4:30 p.m. PST on Thursday, likely weighed between one and 10 tonnes and shone brightly enough to be seen over an area 700 kilometres wide.
"It was somewhere between the size of a chair to the size of a desk," says Alan Hildebrand, planetary scientist at the University of Calgary. "This one was pretty spectacular . . . something like this radiates like a billion-watt bulb. It's a pretty bright light in the sky." Hildebrand says the meteor may have broken into hundreds of smaller meteorites that likely landed in central Saskatchewan near the border with Alberta. And that poses a challenge for those out hunting for the pieces.
Those who find it first could be richly rewarded -- but their search is at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Famous American meteorite collector Robert Haag is offering a $10,000 US reward to anyone who can locate the first one-kilogram chunk of the meteorite. But after the first snowfall that may get a lot harder.
"As soon as the snow falls, there's no chance of finding anything until springtime," says Frank Florian, community astronomer at the Telus World of Science. "If we had a lot of snowfall anywhere, trying to find a rock that gets sucked up by the snow that's underneath all this white cover, unless it was large enough to leave a large enough crater visible from the air, it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
"There's too much space, there's a lot of wooded areas, a lot of muskeg in northern Alberta that swallows up most anything. We have lakes.
"It's really hard to determine exactly where things could fall. That's why we need as many reports as we can get." The eyewitness reports build on each other, Florian says. For example, in Edmonton most of the reports might say it fell just to the east. From other locations, depending on their line of sight, people could report otherwise.
"It's so bright it gets misleading," Florian says. "People think because it's so bright it's really close, but it's really not.
"We really need to take a look at all the reports from Alberta and Saskatchewan and anywhere else that saw it and try to figure out by their line of sight where they saw it in relation to the horizon, which direction they were looking, how high above the horizon they saw it -- start and end -- so they can make an educated guess." So far, he says, eyewitness reports point to a possible Alberta search area northeast of Red Deer, and around Hardisty, Lougheed, Alliance and Galahad.
The all-sky cameras set up to record fireballs will also help narrow the search area. Once the hunt begins, metal detectors could help.
Haag, the collector, says the people with the best chance of finding the fireball scene are the ones who heard the sonic boom. "If you hear that, then you're probably within 30 kilometres of it," he says. (less)
Added: 25 Nov 2008
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